What’s Inside the Secret Room in Mount Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is more than a sculpture carved into the side of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, USA. It’s more than a depiction of four American Presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln — who represent the first 130 years of American history. And while a lot of people have heard about the chamber hidden inside this magnificent structure, the story is more than just what’s inside the secret room in Mount Rushmore.

This is a story of an idea brought to life by Americans willing to put their lives on the line to create a grand memorial. It’s also a monument with secrets, from ties to white supremacy and the KKK, to that much-discussed secret chamber located in the stone. Check out the images as we dig into this great American landmark.

Fun Facts

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  • Mount Rushmore stands at 5,725 ft (1,745 m) above sea level.
  • It was chosen due to its grand location, quality granite, and because it faced southeast. That means it gets maximum sun exposure, which helped maximize working hours.
  • Initially, it was planned for the figures to be carved from head to waist, but a shortage in funding didn’t allow for this.
  • The whole project cost $989,992.32.

Doane Robinson – The Visionary

What's Inside the Secret Room in Mount Rushmore
Photo: National Park Service

Local historian Doane Robinson is credited for coming up with the idea for Mount Rushmore in 1923. He wanted to promote tourism in South Dakota. 

Robinson gained support for the project, and in 1929 President Calvin Coolidge approved it after Congress authorized funding. Now he just needed to find a sculptor to do the job…

Gutzon Borglum — The Sculptor

Photo: YouTube

Gutzon Borglum, a famous Dutch-American sculptor, was selected for the Mount Rushmore project. 

Originally, Doane Robinson wanted to have the monument sculpted on The Needles, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is a region of eroded granite pillars, towers, and spires within Custer State Park. But Borglum rejected the Needles. He didn’t like the poor quality granite, and there was strong opposition from the Lakota (Sioux), who consider the Black Hills to be sacred ground, and The Needles were originally included in the Great Sioux Reservation. 

It’s said that the sculptor and tribal representatives “settled” on Mount Rushmore, but that doesn’t mean Borglum was a great peacemaker.

What's Inside the Secret Room in Mount Rushmore
Photo: Shutterstock

Prior to working on Mount Rushmore, Borglum had been hired by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to build a “shrine to the South” near Atlanta. While he had no ties to the Confederacy, Smithsonian Magazine noted that he had white supremacist leanings. 

“In letters he fretted about a ‘mongrel horde’ overrunning the ‘Nordic’ purity of the West … [and he] aligned himself with the Ku Klux Klan, an organization reborn—it had faded after the Civil War—in a torch-light ceremony atop Stone Mountain in 1915.” While there isn’t proof that Borglum joined the Klan, “he nonetheless became deeply involved in Klan politics,” John Taliaferro wrote in Great White Fathers, his 2002 history of Mount Rushmore.

Borglum and those bosses had multiple disagreements, and when he got the offer from Doane Robinson to work on Mount Rushmore, he left Atlanta.

Above, Borglum can be seen standing on a ladder with his model of the Mount Rushmore memorial in 1936. Notice how much of the bodies were supposed to be seen in the original design.